Alaska latest US state to legalize marijuana for recreational use

Alaska is the third US state to legalize the growing, possession and smoking of the recreational drug.

After nearly 40 years of court rulings and conflicting laws, legalization was finally granted due to a large coalition of Alaskan residents that included everyone from librarians to government officials.

The vote of 53 to 47 in favor of legalization, was made official in November, however, it left many details for local lawmakers to sort out.

In the meantime, Alaska Native leaders are concerned that the drug legalization will have a negative effect on local communities that already struggle with high rates of drug and alcohol abuse as well as high suicide and domestic violence rates.

Edward Nick, council member in Manokotak, a remote village of 400 that is predominantly Yup’ik Eskimo explains, “When they start depending on smoking marijuana, I don’t know how far they’d go to get the funds they need to support it, to support themselves.”

In Nick’s village, both drugs and alcohol are banned.

Backers of the new law reassured Native leaders that they would still have local control as Alaskan law gives every community the option to regulate alcohol. In total, 33 remote communities have a complete ban on alcohol while another 108 impose limits.

One of the undefined portions of the legalization is ‘smoking in public’, which is banned.

Mark Mew, Anchorage Police chief, says that while the definition remains unclear, officers will be enforcing the ‘smoking in public ban’ and warns residents that even smoking on their porches could land them in hot water with a $100 fine.

Organizers of the new law wrote in the Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s largest newspaper, “Don’t do anything to give your neighbors reason to feel uneasy about this new law. We’re in the midst of an enormous social and legal shift.”

As of today, adult Alaskan residents aged 21 and over can legally transport, smoke, grow and own up to an ounce of pot and up to six plants. Regulations for the sale of the drug still must be hammered out.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Of those states, Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Colorado’s first retail marijuana stores opened Jan. 1 for sale to people 21 years and older.